ASKING QUESTIONS DOES NOT QUIETEN THE HEART
To see once again the tremulousness of the visible – the appearing and disappearing image
The rebellion consists in looking at a rose
until the eyes are pulverized
“Asking questions does not quieten the heart” – sentence taken from the book “Obscena Senhora D” (The Obscene Madame D) by Hilda Hilst – is the title of Ana Calzavara’s exhibition. The inflection point the artist asks is precisely the ambiguity of the sentence. Like it happens in the gorges between image and language, questions come up wildly and endlessly, piercing any idyllic place of subjectivity.
From questions that arise from a dense experience, in counterpoint to the speed and volatility of the contemporary gaze, new works derived from one source image: an oil painting made in Italy during an artistic residency at Vila dei Pini in Bogliasco, in the province of Genoa. During the residency, which took place between March and April this year, the artist noticed the silver shine on an image of an olive tree reflected on seawater. The heteroclite aspect of the exhibition unfolds into this first piece, “Ramagem: Matrix” made with mixed media: monotype, drawing, woodcut, collage, digital print, oil on canvas, pastel on hand-dyed paper, silk-screen printing.
In the beautiful essay, “Sideração,” Marie-José Mondzain locates what she calls “a type of epileptic image of society itself”. The critic and thinker makes a call and a digression, invoking silent and decanted images, so we can take a step back from image excess. Ana Calzavara takes upon herself the same task when she helps re-erect the world in the short-circuit of the image, on the branches that rustles and gets displaced when faced with the sea, the wind and her gaze, in sensitive and acute gestures. The poetic, critical and aesthetic place from where the image arises – part light, part shadow, part nature and part artifice – is expanded and transfigures the finished senses.
The idea that ramifies from the repetition of the image of an olive tree, rearticulated and repeated from a new point, sets up the possibility of other types of gazing and creates several ways to safeguard the enigma of the image, as in Abbas Kiarostami’s films, the Iranian filmmaker who captures, through deceptively simple elements, the most profound, moving and radical gestures and gazing of our era. It is impossible here not to be reminded of an exquisite dialogue that can be established in an epiphanic way between this exhibition and the dimension of revelation that can be found in Kiarostami’s cinema, especially in the film ‘Through the Olive Trees’. In Ana Calvazara’s gestures, a plane or prosaic point of view can also turn into a cosmogonic force.
“Perguntar não amansa o coração” (Asking questions does not quieten the heart) is the celebration of this gazing possibility that reveals the image in a state of mumbling. From an initial look, the exhibition goes on to unfold into a frighteningly beautiful spring, which contains both the secret language of the wind as well as inexorable mystery of a scene or a gesture by the artist. From the first branch, the world reveals itself in the singularity of each piece. “Ramagem: Bruma”, “Ramagem: Noturno”, “Ramagem: Contraponto” reveal the complexity of the landscapes that a same image contains and can unfold indefinitely.
In the watermarks of what happens in different relations, support materials and raw materials, the artist attempts and creates a borderline and blurry region between the visible and the invisible, such as “Ramagem: Pixel” – dry pastel on Japanese paper –, in “Ramagem: Raio” – a mix of woodcuttings printed in different colours – or in “Ramagem: Flu” – borne out of the manipulation and alteration of digital data – pieces that boast the impurity that interests her.
A very experimental process adds a layer of “flawed pixels” made of rice paper, mixing media in “Ramagem: Farfalho”. In “Ramagem: Ruído”, the experience comes out of the analogic manipulation of the original photograph. Moving the photograph through the scanner, the artist simulates the diffusion and dispersion of the contemporary existence. The diffuse aspect of the first image seen in Italy spreads across the exhibition and appears to be bathed in the same silver sea light and the olive tree with various layers, textures and thickness that reverb a bodily and sensitive experience, dilacerating a pre-determined visual map by reconstructing a singular cartography in which the gestures can forge borders for what is inscrutable in the image.
Finally, “Ramagem: Vertigem” – a piece conceived out of a discarded item – brings the celebration of a process inspired by the image of an olive tree, highlighting the vertiginous dimension that re-founds the world in a drifting invitation as a way to circumscribe the poetic and ethical densities that can open up from an image, as revealed by Herberto Helder’s poetry: “the chill from having once looked at our own face at the abyss of the world”.
What Ana Calzavara offers us as she opens us to doubting is a way to de-codify the world and shelter the silent – a way to recover the disquieting strangeness of the image. Faced with her images, it is possible to learn the language of birds and the wind and become fluent in a less strident language.
Bianca Coutinho Dias
*photo credit: Débora Benaim
Notes on “Asking questions does not quieten the heart”
“I am blind for seeing it too much”.
O Estrangeiro (The Foreigner), Caetano Veloso
A lot is said about the overflow of images to which we are subjected these days. The image has become the major vehicle of sale of all types of products. It was more than 60 years ago when Andy Warhol and Pop Art used critically their own brands and images created by the so-called “mass culture” as raw material for their creations. With the advent of the digital world, the circulation of images has increased exponentially with unprecedented intensity. Social networks have further amplified their use, blurring the lines between the public and private spheres. Our environs expand massively and noisily with images.
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, in his brief and decisive essay about the importance of the Book, claims that the latter represents a significant possibility of happiness available to us, humans. Unlike the newspaper, which is to be read and forgotten about and in which the use of the word is frivolous and mechanical, “the book is read to immortalize the memory”.
For the artist who express themselves through images in today’s world, it is extremely challenging to make it stand out (and, why not, make it “eternal”) in the minds and hearts of those who behold them. How to create an image that doesn’t go unnoticed or isn’t frivolously discarded? How to infuse it with reflexive and transformative power? How to load it with meaning?
The reiteration – that is, doing it again, repeating – is a gesture that is linked to the industry and its production lines. Fated to occupy new spaces and circulate swiftly through modern society, goods dematerialize and become intangible as information products and images in the post-industrial society. They are transformed and multiplied, but carry on as goods that are produced in series and standardized, aiming at climbing atop mass markets.
A few years ago, a kind of artistic reiteration started to express itself in my artistic production. It gradually established itself and became a recurring feature of different pieces. Over time, I noticed that, in my case, repetition took place exactly as a desire for distinction. In those works, repeating the gesture aimed at making way for differences, imperfections and absence of standardized patterns within them. Therefore, reiteration arose, paradoxically, as a desire to subvert it. To see how I could impart singularity and identity to the indifferent.
“Asking questions does not quieten the heart” is an exhibition that also brings with it the concept of reiteration. It is about a set of pieces conceived and elaborated in 2022 during an artistic residency in Italy in March and April. The Bogliasco Foundation, which welcomed me, is located on the Ligurian Sea coast. It was from a local garden that the first image of the series (“Ramagem: Matrix”), which is included in the exhibit, was made. An oil on canvas painting shows an olive branch that extends over the seawater.
The entire exhibition was conceived from this image – always the same branch, but presented through different techniques and artistic medias. By doing that, I invite the viewer to see again the same (another) image several times over with the aim that, through this reiterated insistence, their attention does not disperse and, instead, it can focus and deepen its apprehension of the represented image.
As Borges observed, I wish it lingers in the memory of those who see it. At the same time, or perhaps exactly for that reason, I would like the pieces to be able to question us about what constitutes an image these days. Asking questions does not quieten the heart but, as the oldest book in the world says, it can make us wiser.